My first reaction upon hearing that Daschle had dropped out as HHS nominee: relief.  Yeah, it’s a setback and an embarrassment for Obama and all that, but it’s not my fault his vetting staff can’t do a better job than John "It’s a Google" McCain’s.  I know I’m supposed to be disappointed the Republicans got this great big win, but I’m just not feeling it.

For one thing, Daschle made $2.1 million over the last two years as a not-quite-a-lobbyist "senior strategist" for a healthcare industry lobbying firm, plus another $320,000 directly from the industry itself.  He would have been navigating a conflict-of-interest minefield which would either destroy his credibility or force him to recuse himself right out of the ballgame.

For another, Daschle is the walking embodiment of the Democrats’ Culture Of Fail.  The Incredible Folding Man who helped facilitate Shock & Awe was supposed to be the go-to guy to push something the GOP sees as an existential threat?  Daschle’s connections and schmoozing skills may be superb, but he’s the last guy I’d pick for a fight.

I was a little worried when the Republicans started making noncommittal, judgment-reserving noises about Daschle’s tax problem rather than going insincerely ballistic like they did on Holder and Geithner.  I thought maybe they realized that a folding milquetoast who made millions from the healthcare industry would be the perfect opponent, but in the end they just couldn’t control themselves.

Whether this is ultimately a net positive will of course depend on who Obama picks to replace Daschle.  Will the president break precedent and choose a forceful, committed and squeaky-clean progressive with a good accountant?  Or will he look for another Republican senator from a state with a moderate Democratic governor who promises to appoint a Republican replacement?

Come to think of it, maybe Obama does need someone Republicans trust, someone who can persuade them to vote in favor of Americans not dying…

You laugh, but David Brooks and/or Broder will be writing a Frist-for-HHS column before the week is out.